Maidstone - Athletics Ground
London Road : ME16 0LY
Maidstone - Athletics Ground : Map credit National Library of Scotland The 7½ acre ground was built in a hop field off the London Road, donated by Mr RJ Balston. The athletic ground cost around £10,000 and was completed in 1895. The ground had football and cricket pitches, tennis courts and running and cycle tracks, set in an amphitheatre enclosure, which could accommodate 10,000 people. The black cinder cycle track was 1,999 feet around and 18 feet wide, with fairly sharp corners, the pavilion had dressing rooms, baths and showers, a refreshment bar, dining room and a reading room.

The cycling clubs in Maidstone at this time were the Maidstone Cycle Club, which was formed in 1882, the club was previously called Maidstone Bicycle Club and the Maidstone Invicta CC which was formed in 1890 and lasted until about 1894.

The first bicycle racing on the new track was on Wednesday April 24th 1895 at which the events were half mile and one lap handicap races and a two miles local handicap. The Chatham Cycling Club held a 25 miles handicap race at the track on June 26th 1895. There were sixteen starters and C Smeeth off 5½ minutes just beat the scratch man F Cole. Maidstone Invicta CC held monthly race meetings at the ground.

The track became more popular, the Whit Monday and August Bank Holiday meetings became annual events. The 1898 Whit Monday meeting had open bicycle races over 1, 3 and 5 miles and professionals were allowed to take part at the meeting. There was a massive gate of 9,000 people.

The August Bank Holiday Monday meeting in 1898 attracted 7,000 spectators and the the entertainment at the event included swings, roundabouts, cocoanut shies, a tightrope walker, jugglers, gymnasts and dancing to the Gravesend Town Band. The professional races were over 1 and 5 miles, Harry Green won the longer race. There were also amateur races over 1 and 5 miles.

Evening races at the ground were organised by Chatham CC, Folkestone Wheelers and New Brompton Wheelers. Maidstone United FC organised an athletics meeting on August 20th 1898. At the 1899 Whit Monday meeting, Charlie Barden beat the English half mile cinder track record with a time of 1 min 10 sec in front of 8,000 spectators.

The Whit Monday meetings retained their popularity until 1909, with crowds of up to 5,000. The August Bank Holiday meetings were also well attended and ran until 1906.

The Kent Constabulary held their annual sports on the ground in the early 1900's and usually included four bicycle races. In 1906 a shocking accident occurred at their sports, CG Bolt, a grocer's assistant and promising Kent rider, was killed when trying to avoid a fallen rider whilst ‘rounding a dangerous corner'.

At the start of WWI, the munitions company, Tilling-Stevens, held a sports meeting on July 29th 1914, which was in aid of wounded soldiers. There was no more racing at the ground until the Whit Monday meeting in 1922 at which there were 1 and 2 miles cycle handicap races. This was probably the last bicycle racing that was held at Maidstone Athletic Ground.

The ground was used up to the 1970's for football games, but was eventually developed as a retail park off London Road and currently houses Dunelm and Iceland stores and the Pippin pub.

Refs     : [30] [p]
Maps    : National Library of Scotland